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A Few Words From Lbj

May 2024
1min read

Early one September evening in 1965, as he was preparing notes for his class at Columbia University, William Leuchtenburg answered his phone and heard a voice say, “This is the White House.” Leuchtenburg taught history, and Lyndon Johnson, who was very interested in how the future would assess his performance, wanted to meet with Leuchtenburg to talk about the historical importance of the legislation passed during the first session of the eighty-ninth Congress. When Leuchtenburg got to Washington, however, he was met by a weary and irritable President who snapped, “I’m going to have to run soon.” But he didn’t. Instead, LBJ sat his guest down and in an increasingly passionate and bizarre ninety-minute harangue revealed not only his deepest wishes for his Great Society but the terrible flaws of character that would wreck those wishes. Afterward, shaken and amazed, Leuchtenburg turned to an aide who had been present and said, “You don’t have to tell me I can’t use 90 percent of this now.” “Better make it 95 percent,” the man replied. Now, for the first time, a quartercentury afterward, William Leuchtenburg tells 100 percent of the most extraordinary interview of his life.

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